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VOD Review: Land

March 5, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Robin Wright makes her feature directorial debut with the simply titled Land, a small but emotionally effective portrait of a woman wounded by grief who leaves her life in the city behind to find solitude in the wild.

Wright stars in the film as Edee. When we first meet her in the film, she is in the middle of a tense therapy session. This serves as a prelude to her decision to move to a remote cabin on the side of a mountain, where she can live off the land and presumably die there, too.

Edee is leaving behind a sister (Kim Dickens), who we see in flashbacks trying to stop her from hurting herself, and also an unimaginable amount of pain and grief. The source of this pain and grief is hinted at in flashbacks involving her husband (Warren Christie) and young son (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong).

The screenplay by Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam does offer some exposition on all of this in the last act. But for the most part, Land is a sparse and understated film, with Wright being alone on screen for large stretches of time. Much of the film plays out as a low-key survivalist drama, focusing on Edee as she adapts to her new life, and faces down the threat of bears and running out of canned food.

Then a man named Miguel (Demián Bichir) enters the picture, a local trapper who comes across her cabin and helps nurse her back to health following a near-death experience. At first, Edee is reluctant to accept his help, but Miguel makes her a deal; he will spend the season teaching her how to hunt and trap, and then she will never see him again. The film allows a touching bond to form between the two, who are both wounded by deep emotional pain, but have very different ways of dealing with it.

Wright delivers a very good performance as Edee, playing the quieter moments and bigger emotional scenes equally well. Bichir also brings great sensitivity to his role as Miguel, whose own inner demons mirror those of Edee. Wright’s direction is also solid, largely avoiding showy filmmaking techniques and allowing the breathtaking landscapes that she is working with to speak for themselves. The film was shot in the mountains of Alberta, and it features good cinematography by Bobby Bukowski, who captures both the beauty and peril of the natural world in a captivating way.

It’s hard to ignore the fact that Land is arriving fresh off the heals of Chloé Zhao’s thematically similar (and similarly titled) Nomadland, another film about a woman leaving her regular life behind as a way to process grief. It does feel like the more accessible and mainstream of the two, and flirts with some of the clichés that Zhao’s film avoided. As I mentioned earlier, Chatham and Dignam’s script overtly spells out the reason for Edee’s trauma in the last act, and in some ways this explanation feels needless, as the film dips into more conventional melodrama in its finale.

It also beckons comparisons to other films like Wild, Into the Wild (which was incidentally directed by Wright’s ex-husband Sean Penn), and the masterful Leave No Trace, but it never quite achieves the full power of these narrative counterparts, which offered better versions of a similar story. With that said, Land is still a good film in its own right that, at a well paced and very economical 89 minutes, kept me engaged. Thanks to touching performances from Wright and Bichir, and good direction by Wright, Land is a small film that delivers an emotional impact.

Land is now available to watch on Premium Video On Demand for a 48-hour rental period. It’s being distributed in Canada by Focus Features.

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